July 3, 2022

Want to be less selfish, manipulative or impulsive?  A new study has found that tasks designed to make someone more agreeable also effectively reduce a trio of negative personality traits known as the “Dark Triad” – Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy.

SMU psychology professor Nathan Hudson’s study showed that practicing activities like “donating money to a charity that you would normally spend on yourself” or “talking to a stranger and asking them about themselves” decreased all three Dark Triad traits after four months. That was the case even for people who said they wanted to increase their dark traits, not diminish them.

In a surprise twist, though, Hudson’s study published in the Journal of Personality found that these people did want to become more agreeable – modest, kind, considerate and helpful.

“Thus, interventions targeting agreeableness may be an effective way to help reduce dark traits in a way that people may be likely to cooperate with,” he says.

How does Hudson account for the finding?

“I’d guess that people with high levels of Machiavellianism, for example, do want to be nice, kind people. But they also feel that manipulating others is a good and useful strategy for navigating life and getting what they want.”

And perhaps there’s a mental disconnect for people with high levels of the Dark Triad.

“No one wants to see themselves as bad or evil. So people tend to justify their bad behavior,” he says.

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